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American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Records - Guide to Selected Case Files: Student and Juvenile Rights

The ACLU of Georgia's records are housed at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. This guide provides further description about the cases litigated by the ACLU of Georgia which are best documented in the records.


Juveniles and students, just like any other groups in the United States, are guaranteed all the rights in the U.S. Constitution. However, due to their age and status, both groups sometimes have their rights limited by the institutions with which they interact, particularly schools.

The ACLU of Georgia feels that the constitutional rights of students and juveniles must be respected and has represented students in cases challenging searches of a student’s person and property at school, suppression of their free speech, and failure to provide equal protection. Additionally, the ACLU of Georgia has advocated against harsh “zero tolerance policies” in schools and called for reform of the state’s juvenile detention system.

Cases, A-R

A. M. v. Martin, 1996-1998

General Description: Prompt Probable Cause

Summary of the Issues Involved: Like adults, juveniles alleged to have committed an act in violation of the criminal law are entitled to fair and due process. In this case a group of juvenile offenders, represented by the ACLU of Georgia, brought a lawsuit against the court system for failure to hold probable cause hearings in a timely manner. The Government argued that juveniles, like adults, could be held in warrantless detention for a maximum of 72 hours under Georgia law. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia stated that juveniles detained without a warrant are entitled to a prompt probable cause hearing, and must be given such a hearing within 48 hours of the warrantless detention, inclusive of weekends and holidays.


Harris, Melvin v. Atlanta Independent School System, 2008-2012

General Description: Adequate Public Education

Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiffs filed this class action lawsuit against the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS), alleging violation of a student's right to adequate public education. AISS, partnered with a private organization, operated a taxpayer-funded alternative school for students with behavioral problems. Plaintiffs argued students were not given adequate instruction since the school lacked a set curriculum and were subject to unreasonable searches. The parties ultimately settled the case.


J.U. v. Murray County School District, 2006

General Description: Free Speech

Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiff was expelled from school for writing a poem school administrators deemed threatening. Other poems written by the student were not threatening. The ACLU of Georgia challenged the school’s policy as vague and argued suspension violated the student’s right to free speech. The case eventually settled with concessions made to the plaintiff.

Cases, S-Z

Schingler v. Seminole County School District, 2001-2002

General Description: Dress Code (Confederate Flag)

Summary of the Issues Involved: Seminole County School District’s Superintendent ordered that any shirt bearing an image of the Confederate flag would be targeted for censorship, and students wearing such a shirt could be subject to disciplinary action. The plaintiffs, eight students who occasionally wore such shirts in the past, filed this action arguing the dress code policy violated their rights to free speech and expression. Eventually, the parties settled the case in favor of the plaintiffs and the court awarded the plaintiffs attorney’s fees.


Smith v. Cobb County Schools, 2000 - circa 2001

General Description: School Weapons Policy

Summary of the Issues Involved: The ACLU of Georgia brought this case on behalf of a student suspended from school for possession of a small chain that attached a keychain to her wallet. Under the school’s zero tolerance policy, several other students had been suspended for possession of items deemed to be weapons or possibly used as weapons. The parties reached a settlement under which the student was permitted to return to school, but her parents withdrew her from the school district and enrolled the student in a private institution.


Thomas v. Clayton County School District, 1997-2000

General Description: Searches at School

Summary of the Issues Involved: After money for a school fundraiser went missing from her classroom, a teacher, with the aid of a school resource officer, conducted a search of the students’ belongings and persons. In the course of the search, the teacher sent the male students in groups to the restroom with the resource officer to be strip-searched. The teacher allegedly  performed the same search on the female students. The ACLU of Georgia filed this lawsuit on behalf of the students, arguing their right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures had been violated. After a long period of litigation, the case was decided in the plaintiffs’ favor and the search was deemed unconstitutional. The case was also known as Thomas v. Roberts and Thomas v. West Clayton Elementary School.


Tillman v. Gwinnett County Schools, 2004-2006

General Description: Dress Code

Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiff, a student subjected to disciplinary actions for wearing allegedly gang-related clothing to school, filed suit arguing the school’s dress code was unconstitutionally vague. Trial was set for this case, but ultimately the parties settled.